Education

Construction on new elementary school in Merced County to start soon, officials say

A crane lifts part of a building onto its base as construction continues on installing new classrooms to Mercey Springs Elementary School March 2, 2017.
A crane lifts part of a building onto its base as construction continues on installing new classrooms to Mercey Springs Elementary School March 2, 2017. vshanker@losbanosenterprise.com

School officials expect Los Banos to have a new elementary school ready by the start of school in 2020.

“Our elementary schools are bursting at the seams,” Los Banos Unified School District Board President Anthony Parreira said, adding officials are trying to get the new school built as soon as possible.

The new school is anticipated to cost around $25 million and will be funded by Measure X, passed by Los Banos voters in June, and district facility funds, Superintendent Mark Marshall said.

It is expected to be built at the corner of B Street and Place Road, right behind the old junior high school, Parreira said. The location and rough design of the school was purchased and approved years ago.

Last year, the school district needed to send updated school plans that complied with current facility standards to the state for re-approval.

The new school, which has yet to be named, will be built to accommodate 990 students from Kindergarten to sixth grade, Marshall said.

For years, Los Banos school officials have been sounding the alarm about the burgeoning student population and need for more schools and classrooms.

The school district finished construction last year on doubling the size of Mercey Springs Elementary School. The district also recently built Creekside Junior High School in 2016 and Pacheco High School opened in 2010.

Last year, the district changed its junior high and high school boundaries to alleviate overcrowding. Parreira said the situation is now more dire at the elementary schools.

Supporters of the school expansion in June convinced voters to approve Measure X, which allows the district to issue $65 million in bonds “to improve local schools, with independent audits, citizen oversight and all funds locally controlled,” according to the ballot question. It is expected to raise on average about $3.8 million per year, or 4.3 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Measure X was a tax increase extension that was originally approved in 1995, officials said. The increase extends through the 2051-2052 school year.

Part of those funds will help fund the new school, with the remainder to help construct a new classroom wing at Creekside, new science wing at Pacheco High and additional classrooms at other schools.

The school board on Nov. 19 approved using a lease-leaseback construction method for the project. Lease-leaseback projects have been publicly scrutinized since Fresno Unified School District wound up under a federal grand jury investigation after it used the method.

The lease-leaseback method allows the school district to lease land to a contractor for a negligible amount with the understanding the contractor will build the school and lease it back to the district for a longer period of time.

The method was supposed to allow districts with less money to construct expensive but necessary buildings. But it also invited misuse, including a loophole to avoid competitive bidding.

Los Banos Unified will be using a lease-leaseback deal under newer state laws that require competitive selection of contractors using price and experience, and prequalifications, Marshall said.

The board conducted two special study sessions to go over the revamped construction method. Bidding on the project is expected to start in December, with groundbreaking planned for January.

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